Afghanistan – Structure of the Islamic Taliban Movement

By | December 16, 2021

The Islamic Movement of the Taliban (in Pashto language: De talebano islami ghurdzang or De talebano islami tehrik) is so called because of the origin of all its most important leaders and most of its base militants from the madrasas, the religious schools of the Pakistan and the peripheral areas of Afghanistan. Taleban is the Persian plural form of the Arabic word taleb (“student”), which in turn derives from the Arabic verb talaba (“strive”, in this case to attain knowledge), hence the expression ‘students of the Koran’, often used in Western sources to designate the followers of this movement.

The structure of the Taliban movement corresponds to a concentric model, the center of which is represented by the amir (“guide”), Mullah Mohammad Omar. The innermost circle revolves around the latter, formed by a group of former mujahideen commanders who, as did Mullah Omar himself, considered their mission concluded with the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, returning to their madrassas. Only the need to put an end to the mujahideen regime, which they considered and publicly defined as ‘non-Islamic’, prompted these commanders at a later time to take up arms again.

The so-called internal shura (‘internal council’) of the Taliban movement is currently made up of a group of highly committed and ideologically motivated leaders, mostly from Kandahar and some neighboring provinces such as Helmand, Oruzgan and Zabul. Moreover, after the death in the war or the removal of some of the founding members, the current composition of the council is not well known.¬†For Afghanistan 2019, please check

Alongside this organism, there are two other shuras – with perhaps partly overlapping powers – capable of influencing the decision-making process of the regime: a military shura and a shura (or an informal group) of Islamic scholars (ulema). These bodies are characterized by a total absence of transparency and act in the utmost secrecy, so that the real internal structure of power and the decision-making process of the Taliban regime still remain largely unknown.

Around the founding fathers of the Taliban movement, in the second concentric circle, are gathered the fighters who have followed them from the beginning or who have joined the movement later, coming from Pakistani or Afghan madrasas, the so-called ‘true Taliban’. Many of them are children of Afghan refugees or orphans who had no access to education other than that offered by the madrasas, which provide their students with free food, shelter and tuition.

The outermost circle is finally formed by those mujahideen who, faced with the furious attack against them by the Taliban between 1994 and 1997, preferred to join their opponents rather than fight them. Since then, there has been in motion a strong presence of elements from the old ‘parties’ mujahidin as Harakat-e inqilab-e islami, of Maulawi Muhammad Nabi Muhammadi, and Hezb-e Islami, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, on whose loyalty to the regime remain however many doubts. The same can be said for the component formed by the former ‘Communists’ (mostly from the Khalq faction), which provides the Taliban regime with pilots, tank drivers and other specialists in the military field and even personnel for its secret service, all activities that require skills not widespread among the graduates of the madrassas.

Parallel to the growing difficulty in finding recruits in the Pashtun areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, the base of the Taliban’s power, the military importance of foreign elements, such as Osama Bin Laden’s Arabs or militants from other countries, has increased within the movement. of Central Asia, such as the members of the Uzbekistan Islamic Movement headed by Juma Boi Namangani and Taher Yuldushev.

Some sources describe the Taliban movement as an indigenous Afghan network later integrated with other transnational networks, organized, supported and manipulated by the Pakistani military for their national and regional security purposes. The Pakistani government, however, firmly denies any hypothesis of military aid to the Taliban regime, as was reiterated by Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar in June 2001, during a visit to Washington.

On the other hand, it is certain that the Taliban regime can count on a dense network of economic interests, based on the control of transport and trade between the southern coast of the Arabian Gulf, Iran and the Pakistani port of Karachi, operated by the Pashtuns of the diaspora who , in turn, maintain close links with the administrations of the Pakistani provinces of the NWFP (North West Frontier Peshawar) and Balochistan. This so-called frontier trade – much of which is in fact smuggling – is the Taliban’s most important source of income. According to an instant estimate by the World Bank, ‘unofficial exports’ from Afghanistan to Pakistan alone amounted to US $ 941 million in 2000, while ‘unofficial imports’ reached roughly US $ 100 million.

Beyond its internal structures, the Taliban regime has established a strictly centralized system of government, at the top of which is the Cabinet of Ministers (in Pashto De wazirano shura) of the Emirate, based in Kabul and formed by a president, 21 ministers and some coordinators of the Directorates General under the authority of each minister. In reality, the authority of this shura appears heavily conditioned and no important decision can be made without consulting the shura inland of Kandahar. This centralized structure extends to the provincial and district levels, where a high percentage of public officials rotate rather quickly (about every six months), to avoid the development of local powers. On the other hand, the control of the Taliban on the lower rungs of the government system often remains superficial and symbolic, especially in the areas of the Pashtun tribes. which still enjoy de facto a certain degree of autonomy, and in Hazarajat, in central Afghanistan, where real power is left in the hands of local allied leaders, provided they do not publicly conflict with the movement. Control over these structures is maintained by the ‘ministers’ for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, who do not report to the Council of Ministers but directly to Mullah Omar.

Afghanistan - Structure of the Islamic Taliban Movement